Dan Swaningson, Hope Chapel 1-24-17
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Heb 11:1
The Lord always hears your prayers and his heart aches for you; trust in his ways.
Faith is a many complicated thing— kind of like that sentence— grammatically it makes no sense yet it communicates the exact sentiment I’m looking for. Faith makes no sense, we really don’t understand it, yet it’s what we base all our hopes on. For the believer it is the very definition of hope. We are saved by faith and we carry on by faith, believing in the existence of a God we cannot see, believing in a salvation we cannot earn and believing for a tomorrow that cannot be proven.
Belief— that’s what faith is— belief. The world calls that irrational foolishness, we call it faith. Faith is belief in a God who cares.
I have to admit I struggle, as most if not all people do, with understanding our role in the faith equation. It’s just really hard to fathom the whole concept which—I suppose— is why the Bible spends so much time talking about it from Genesis to Revelation. If it were easy one or two chapters would suffice.
I have come to the conclusion after my many years of walking with the Lord, studying his word, and experiencing life lived by faith, as best as I know how, that faith, as I understand it, is not believing that I can believe something, anything, into my present reality— faith is trusting that I serve a God who can do anything at any time and that whatever he does is good and right -and just in time.
Honestly, if God was depending on my faith alone to do anything— if God were depending on the faith of any of us— we would all be sunk. Fortunately for us, God is faithful, our God hears, and our God cares. I believe he is just asking that we do not stop asking and trusting that he hears us.
So I want to explore this question some this morning, this many complicated faith thing.
Jesus had a lot to say about faith but there is a story in the book of Mark that really speaks to me because I can so relate to it.
Pray Jesus, John, James and Peter are just coming back from a hilltop where the three fisherman had the amazing experience of seeing Jesus’ transfigured as he had a little chat with Moses and Elijah.
(Find Mark 9:16-26to read the whole story)
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” Mark 9
“Lord I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” How many can relate to this? We believe with all our hearts and souls— or do we? There is always this little seed of doubt and we are suddenly terrified—‘Will my doubt ruin everything? Will I miss out on the blessing, on the healing, on the favor of God because I cannot muster up complete and total faith?’
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! The man came to Jesus with his request— that is prayer. The very act of asking the Lord to help him overcome his lack of faith takes faith— quite an irony isn’t it? -But one that’s important to grasp.
The father who brought his son to Jesus had doubts, maybe just the seed of doubt, maybe a lot of doubt, but guess what? The man’s boy got delivered even though— or maybe because— his Father confessed that he struggled with believing.
Honesty— I see it and I say it over and over again— the Lord is looking for honesty much more than he is perfection. Grace comes to those who need it and ask for it, not those who believe they have earned it. Grace is in fact something that none of us has earned— otherwise it wouldn’t even be called grace, it would be called wages. We are not serving a God who pays us for our service, despite what the high rollers in the Kingdom say. God blesses us with what we need because he has a heart that wants to bless us; often in spite of us.
You’ll notice that Jesus got a little frustrated in this story, not because he is angry with the disciples but because he wants so badly for them to get it that he gets frustrated at their flounderings. Apparently the disciples hadn’t even bothered to pray, they just started yelling at the demon and arguing with each other over why it wasn’t working.
The disciples assumed they had it figured out; ‘well, the last time we did this the demons came out’. The teachers of the law also thought they had it figured out: No, that’s not right, you have to do this and that and say this and then the demons will come out.
Neither group was moving in faith, they were trying to reenact a miracle based on past experience rather than on the power of God. Read through the gospels and see how many different ways Jesus heals and delivers people-- it’s nearly always different— but there is one thing he always does, he talks to his Father, he prays. Jesus comes to people prayed up and he often stops to pray as he ministers to people. He looks to his Father to guide him in all that he does and trusts that whatever his Father tells him to do, when he tells him to do it and even if he should do it, he trusts that that is the way. That’s what faith is, seeking and following.
What faith is not is— it would seem from this story and what I glean from the life of Jesus— faith is not doing something because you did it before and it worked. Faith is not copying someone else. Jesus said, I only do what I see my Father doing.
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:19
Jesus prayed and in his mind’s eye he saw his father moving— healing, delivering, loving, encouraging, rebuking— he did all these things in power because he was moving in faith. Faith that came from knowing exactly what his Father wanted him to do and praying that it would be so.
Where we miss it I think that may be where we often get it wrong; we decide we want this or that to happen and assume that God is going to go along with it. ‘But Lord, it must be right, why isn’t it happening? Why am I not getting that new car— John prayed for a new car and he got one. Why am I still stuck in this same stupid Job, I have been praying for a new one for years— am I not believing hard enough? Lord, why is my little boy still sick? I have been doing all the right things, anointing him with oil, rebuking the disease, rebuking the enemy— do I not have enough faith? Why don’t you hear me!?’ (Pause)
…You’re all waiting for the answer to that aren’t you? I don’t know the exact answer, if I did all my prayers would be answered. Here’s my best guesses. Maybe we are not praying the right way— because we are not listening— we’re not seeing what the Father is doing. Maybe we are being too impatient, maybe there is a much larger purpose and picture that we are not seeing and the Lord is doing us a favor by not answering our prayers when and how we desire.
All we know is that it seems like God is not listening— let me assure you— he is! God always hears the prayers of his people and his heart breaks with ours. It breaks because he wants to take care of us and those we love, and it breaks because he wants us to trust him even when it seems we are just yelling into the wind. I don’t know why some things that seem to us to be so urgent are not dealt with immediately, why Lord, would you possibly not want to heal this?
The apostle Paul also asked this question:
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor 12:7-9
Do you suppose Paul was lacking in Faith? —Chew on that one.
You can believe as hard as you want, if it’s not God’s will it’s not going to happen. I know this gets tricky; I guess when it comes to healing the sick we need to keep contending, if the Lord asks us to pray for someone we need to pray the prayer of faith with an ear always to the Spirit as to how and when to pray, believing that our God hears. And when it comes to anything else we need to always be praying “Not my will but yours be done Lord.” God is a whole lot smarter than I am.
Bottom line is, when the man in our story had done everything else- been to the temple, the doctors, gone to the disciples of Jesus- he didn’t give up. Even though by this point his faith was all but gone, he took his son to Jesus. The boy did ultimately get delivered, He took his son to Jesus. Lord help me overcome my unbelief!
It was not the Apostles just yelling at the devil— “Come out!” —though there would be other times when that would work. It was not them believing that they could, it was their prayer to a God who was able to do it. They had to take the boy to Jesus. That’s what we must do— take it to Jesus.
“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Our God is Faithful The power of faith lies not in us, it lies in trusting the Lord from whom all blessings flow, to pray as Jesus prayed— “Not my will but yours be done Father.” If the Lord reveals to you that now is the time to heal or deliver or that now is the time to contend, than you need to be faithful and do it. You need to discern what the Spirit is present to do. If the Lord leads you to do something, you need to do it. Whether it’s giving a lonely looking person on the street a smile and a howdy, or devoting years of your life to a ministry that challenges and stretches you, you need to do it— no matter how hard or scary. That’s faith, that’s believing, trusting in the God who calls.
Faith is not mustering up enough unshakable believe in your own mind that you no longer see reality, faith is knowing in your heart that God can change reality and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, seeing His reality.
Faith is believing that our God is faithful, believing that he hears us. Faith is not believing that there is no fire to face, faith is putting ourselves into a place where we are thrown into the fire even though we could get out of it by going our own way.
Faith is facing yet another day where nothing seems to change, the promises you thought you heard have not yet come to pass, the deliverance has yet to be manifest, the healing has not yet come, the blessings have not been released; yet not losing hope, not getting discouraged, not giving up.
Standing up Sometimes faith is being strong enough, angry enough, and brave enough to fight, to say; “Enough is enough, I am done allowing myself to be pushed around anymore!”
This is going to sound like a story I stole straight from the Movie; A Christmas Story, but like all of my stories, it is 100% true and accurate— at least according to my memory.
Last week I told you about how I cracked the windshield on our Moto-Ski snowmobile with my Minnesota Vikings stocking cap clad head. That reminded me of another story involving that hat. Actually I wore that hat a lot since, like I told you, winters in Minnesota lasted a long time.
When I was in the fourth grade I usually walked home from school, Garfield elementary in Cloquet MN. It seemed like a long way but I suppose it was a half mile or so. This year the walk seemed especially long because some kids decided it would be fun to follow me home every day and throw snowballs at me every chance they got. If there wasn’t enough good snowball making snow, rocks would work just as well.
There were three of them— I didn’t even know them, we weren’t in the same class and I have no idea why they didn’t like me— they were just bullies looking for sport I suppose. And I was the lucky winner. This wasn’t unusual actually. I was always big for my age and all throughout school if anyone wanted to prove they were tough the quickest way to do it was to pick on the big guy. I never had any desire to get into fights and I was usually good with my words so I didn’t have to— most of the time.
My mother and I had even gone to the principal’s office together a couple of weeks earlier, meeting with these boys there but he hadn’t taken it seriously and refused to do anything, this only emboldened the boys and made things worse.
I don t remember how long this went on but one day I decided enough was enough and rather than running, ducking or even trying to ignore the taunts and the rocks I decided to make a stand. So as the boys were feeling a little braver and getting closer to me I turned aside from my usual route and stopped in the middle of an empty lot and let them close in on me.
I don’t remember what was said but they obviously thought they were pretty tough. It was obvious which one was the ring leader and which ones were the toadies, toadies only repeat what they hear the ring leader say. As the head bully got in my face I grabbed him and threw him to the ground and sat on his chest pinning his arms with my knees. I’ll never forget the look of utter astonishment and fear on his face as I looked down on him with my best young barbarian glare of death while I raised a clenched fist menacingly over my head while realizing that I could now pound his face to a pulp if I so desired.
But I didn’t— just seeing the look on his face and hearing him scream like a little girl was enough. Those screams were mostly for help from his minions who were standing on either side of us looking just as shocked. I started getting a little nervous when he started yelling for his toadies to hit me in the head with a rock as I was just sitting there relishing the moment. Either minion one and minion two couldn’t find a sufficient rock- or they just didn’t have it in them to bash me in the head- but they decided it was sufficient to snatch my prized Vikings stocking cap off my head and run.
This actually worked because I jumped up and went after them leaving whimpering Bully boy to run home to mommy.
When I got home my mother wanted to know where my hat was so I told her what had happened. I told her that I had handled it but I really wanted to get my hat back. I had no doubt that my hat would end up at bully boy’s house so I talked my mother into going over there with me to demand my hat back. That wasn’t a pleasant experience either as we found out why Bully boy was so ornery, he got it from his mother.
Long story short we got my hat back and I changed schools a week later, even though I had put an end to the problem, it was time for a change of scenery. My work was done here.
Thots Bullies are nothing but cowards that just need to be faced down.
As children of God and citizens of heaven we need to have that same mentality when it comes to the ruler of this present world, the enemy of our souls. Sometimes faith is facing the enemy, facing the challenge before us even though we aren’t sure of the outcome.
I didn’t know if I was going to win that fight, but I knew it was a fight that had to be fought and that even if I lost I had stood my ground.
You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
I wonder if maybe the Lord is sometimes just waiting for us to get mad enough or desperate enough to finally turn and face the enemy— to claim our authority? Even if we know there is a chance we might get burned. Even if we burn “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you. Isaiah 43:1
A couple of weeks ago we looked at this verse as an assurance that God knows who you are, that he is not making a mistake or just choosing random people to accomplish specific things he need done. I want you to look at the latter part of this promise now. No matter the perceived obstacles we must not lose heart.
We need to keep pursuing our calling, we need to remain obedient, trusting— no matter how things appear. If all seems hopeless— the ship has apparently sailed and you weren’t on it —that’s where faith comes in.
There’s a great story in the book of Daniel chapt. 3
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young men, Jews who had been taken captive to Babylon when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar. They had been pressed into service in the house of the King himself and had been blessed with great favor there by the Lord. But then came the day when this arrogant and prideful King decided to create his own God so he built an enormous statue out of pure gold and commanded that whenever anyone heard the sound of any kind of music they were supposed to fall down and worship this idol.
So for the grand unveiling he gathers together everyone who is anyone in the kingdom and has them stand before the statue, someone strikes up the band and everyone falls down to worship-- except these three humble Jews— young men who have faith in an invisible god not made with human hands.
King Nebby is furious but gives them another chance, threatening them with a painful death if they refuse— again they refuse to bow down. Now the King flies into a rage and orders them seized for immediate execution by fire; taunting the young men; “you think your God is greater than mine, where is he, who is he?...”
And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Dan 3:15-—18
The enormous kiln is heated hotter than it’s ever been, so hot it kills the guards who are charged with casting the, delusional Yahweh worshippers, now hog tied, into the oven door. From a safe distance the King looks into the opening and see’s something that blows his mind; four men milling around in the flames like they are just waiting for the next bus.
He’s turns to his posse and says: “Didn’t we just throw three men into the flames, and weren’t they tied up? But now there are four and one of them looks a son of the gods.” —Gee, I wonder who that could have been? Nebuchadnezzar than goes over and hollers into the furnace- I’m guessing after the flames had quieted down some, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
Not a single hair of their heads was singed.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
These three didn’t muster up a faith “I am not going to burn, I am not going to be cast into the fire.” They didn’t have to muster up anything— what they had was a simple faith in the faithfulness of their God, that he was bigger than the King and his false god, that he was watching them, that he was with them and whatever happened he was still on the throne, not just in heaven, but in their lives.
Even if we burn— he is still our God. Wow, that’s faith. And I think that’s what faith is, a lack of fear, being at peace with whatever happens because you are in the hands of a loving God and no one can snatch you away!
Lack of fear A couple of weeks ago I told you, in the words of the great John Wayne: That courage is not being afraid but saddling up anyway. As I pondered and prayed about this faith message this week I came to the conclusion that Faith is the lack of fear. Getting to that place in your walk with the Lord where you can trust him completely. That you know, no matter how things might turn out that the is still in control, he still hears you and knows you better than you know yourself and that you are totally and completely in his hands— so long as you believe you are.
Faith is having the peace that comes with that knowledge. Faith is knowing that you are loved— loved with a perfect love— and perfect love drives away fear. God’s love not only drives away fear, but in the end it restores what was stolen. The man with the demon possessed son got his child delivered- he got his son back. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got their lives back —and I got my hat back. Show hat
Losing the fear, standing up and facing the bullies in your life is one thing and it’s the most important thing— losing that fear, watching the enemy that has taunted you for so l long run, but to then have what the enemy has stolen restored— that is just the awesomeness of the God we serve.
If we put God first in all our ways, if we are seeking his will, seek ye first the Kingdom of God his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you… then we will see our prayers answered. Our faith is not for the purpose of filling our wish lists, the name it and claim it mentality that has been so detrimental to the Kingdom and the church; we are asked to believe —and given the faith we need to make up the difference when we are found lacking in our own ability to muster up faith; Lord I belief, help my unbelief! — so that we can bring the kingdom of God into the Kingdom of this world, to bring God’s power for good crashing into this present kingdom of all that’s wrong; Light into darkness
Our faith frees the power of God to override the very laws of nature, to alter the laws of physics with the power of the one who created all that we see.
That’s when people are healed, that’s when people are delivered, that’s when lives are dramatically changed for good, that’s when the simple words-- I love you and Jesus loves you-- can melt a heart of stone and make a person a new creation in an instant. Miracles happen when we believe in the God behind the words and know he hears us, know that he loves us and it is his heart’s desire to set the hearts, minds and souls of every man woman and child on this planet free.
That’s what faith is for— that’s what faith is.
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9
Jesus hears you, believe it and watch the enemy run.